Sleep apnea is a condition that affects people's ability to get sound sleep. The symptoms that a person encounters can easily be confused with other conditions. Many people live with sleep apnea without any knowledge that there is something wrong. Once the problem is brought to light it can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose.
Many people avoid the thought of sleep apnea because of the difficulty in diagnosing it. Sleep apnea is not diagnosed with a simple draw of the blood or by using a urine sample. Instead, the patient must go to a designated office or facility where they can participate in a sleep study. As technology has evolved a new technique of diagnosing someone with sleep apnea is being developed.
This new technique does not need a sleep scientist to study the patient over night. The sleep study is not part of the procedure at all. Instead, the doctor would take a photo of the patient and put it through a software for analysis.
Symptoms in the Night
When presented with a problem many people think of the symptoms that they are experiencing during the day. A person with sleep apnea typically experiences the feeling of tiredness during the day. This tiredness can last throughout the day and affect how a person is able to live their life. With this comes changes in mood. They may also experience forgetfulness. Even a decrease in their sex drive. Headaches after waking up are common as well. Many people add these symptoms together and figure they need more vitamins or exercise in their life. They try to treat the symptoms with supplements or ignore them all together.
The symptoms that help many learn that they have sleep apnea are ones that they experience at night. The symptoms often go unnoticed since they occur during sleep. They may suffer from snoring loudly while sleeping or even having the feeling they cannot breathe as they sleep. During the night they may wake up often or not be able to sleep at all. The problem with sleep apnea is the fact most people do not realize that they are snoring or even gasping for air during the night. If they wake up and do not know why. Or they think they have another sleep disorder like insomnia. Most people learn that they have sleep apnea when a loved one points out reoccurring choking sounds throughout the night.
If a person goes for a long period of time without learning that they have sleep apnea they are at risk of many serious health problems. Sleep apnea does not just stop someone from sleeping. It actually stops them from being able to breathe during their sleep cycle. Prolonged lack of oxygen can do serious damage to their body. This interrupted breathing can last a few moments and can extend to longer periods of time before the body realizes it is losing oxygen. There are a few causes of sleep apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is caused when the airway becomes blocked. Either by the tongue or the soft tissue of the throat collapsing.
Central Sleep Apnea concentrates on the brain. With this type, the brain does not continually tell the body to breathe. Essentially, the brain “forgets” that it needs oxygen to survive and does not tell its muscles to continue working. Either way, the lack of oxygen during the night is what causes the lethargic feeling the next day. Which leads most people to assume they need to get more sleep. Untreated, this condition, can lead to heart disease or even strokes. Living with untreated sleep apnea can affect how well a person performs in a job. It can also put strains on relationships since the person can be much more moody or forgetful.
Typically someone can be diagnosed with sleep apnea by spending the night in the hospital for a sleep study. This is the most common way doctors are able to diagnose this condition. There are sensors attached to the patient's skin to monitor their sleep pattern. There are many parts of sleep that are monitored. They will watch for eye movements, breathing and snoring, how much the person moves, their brain waves, heart rhythm, and of course oxygen levels. While this can help determine if the person has sleep apnea it is also very invasive and expensive. Some hospitals do not offer the service and the patient may have to travel for a diagnosis.
A New Technique
With the invasive nature of a sleep study, there are scientists looking for a better way to diagnose sleep apnea. A new technique of taking pictures of the patient to determine if they are likely to have sleep apnea is being formulated. This is a much less intrusive technique and could help diagnose patients much quicker in the doctor's office.
A computer scientist by the name of Dr Syed Shamsul is using an artificial intelligence software to create a tool that could help determine if a person has sleep apnea. By taking pictures of a person the software would calculate if the person has sleep apnea by examining the structure of the face. The software studies the parts of the face that would not be visible to the naked eye.
There are different facial structures that show a person is prone to sleep apnea. The structure of the face and neck can be the cause of the condition. If the jaw is weak it may allow the tongue to fall backwards and block the airway. The angle of a persons neck can contribute as well. Even the shape of the nose or spacing of the eyes has been seen to help determine if a patient has this condition.
It does take more than a 2D photo snapped on a camera to predict if a person has sleep apnea. These photos can help to determine if someone is likely to have sleep apnea. However, they are much less accurate than a 3D image of the person. With the help from many sleep apnea patients and people without the condition, Dr. Syed has started collecting images for this software. These images are helping him piece together what facial features are more likely to be seen in someone with sleep apnea.
In the past 3D imaging was difficult to come by. The equipment was expensive for a doctor to have and many doctors in a general practice chose not to have one. As technology has advanced the cost of a 3D camera has been greatly reduced. It is much more accessible for doctors in a general practice. More general doctors are getting access to 3D imaging technology. As this becomes more common a technique like using 3D images to determine if someone has sleep apnea can become more common as well. People will be able to visit their doctor for a few quick images instead of undergoing a sleep study. An easier and quick procedure for diagnosing sleep apnea could help those that do not know they suffer from the condition. Their doctor could be much more quick to check for sleep apnea since the test would be less time consuming and less expensive for the patient. After a diagnosis, the patient can start to receive the treatment they need.